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Baseball has returned in Anne Arundel County. Here’s what it looks like.

Eric Chaney pitched Sunday, June 28, for the Annapolis Admirals, a team that branched off from American Legion Baseball this summer to play independently.
Eric Chaney pitched Sunday, June 28, for the Annapolis Admirals, a team that branched off from American Legion Baseball this summer to play independently. (Courtesy Mel Edwards)

Two things have surprised infielder Sam Kasprow.

One is that there are things other than an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that can cancel his baseball game.

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Rain wiped out the home opener for the Annapolis Admirals on June 19. It did again on Wednesday night, which would have marked the first hosted game at the team’s summer home, Joe Cannon Stadium.

The second? “It’s crazy that we’re playing before professional baseball is back,” said Kasprow, a recent Annapolis High graduate who was supposed to play his first year of college baseball at Virginia Wesleyan University until coronavirus swept that away, too.

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Multiple players for the Admirals, a squad playing independently from American Legion Baseball this summer, weren’t sure they’d compete again this year. Nor did many ballplayers around the state who have had to sacrifice parts of the game they’re used to this summer, as calls for safety against the pandemic canceled various athletic seasons and tournaments across the nation.

Once Kasprow lost his college season, his chance to play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League washed away when it canceled its season on May 4. He’d texted Annapolis Admirals coach Mel Edwards to see if there was a spot for him.

But soon after American Legion Baseball in Maryland announced its summer season would be canceled, a kernel of lost hope nestled within Kasprow.

Thanks to Edwards, it didn’t sprout. Nor for the other members of the team.

“Mel, he was always sending us email, hopeful that we were going to get back. He had a plan,” said Bowie resident Matt Ferony, an infielder who now attends Chesapeake College. “It was a month and half ago I realized we’d actually get to play.”

Over April, May and June, Edwards went “full speed” to put together something for his prospective Annapolis Post 7 players.

“I felt awful they lost a chance to compete and a chance to hang around their friends for the season,” Edwards said. “I was determined to do whatever I could, even if it was an eight- or 10-game season, to play.”

He analyzed each one of Governor Larry Hogan’s press conferences to figure out a pattern for when play might return. In the meantime, he probed as many American Legion coaches he could to see which would field teams. Then he began scheduling games.

Marking June 19 as the first game was risky; even riskier because, in the end, Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks wouldn’t green light play until June 17.

It was then Edwards finally got a good night of sleep.

“It’s awesome,” Kasprow said of Edwards, “having someone so dedicated to having baseball back on the field.”

A relentless pandemic brings some quirks. For one, Annapolis, the only post team operating this summer, must operate independently of American Legion Baseball.

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Edwards argues there’s a relationship between American Legion Post 7 and its team that could rival any around. Parents contributed money months ago, and the team had already bought uniforms. Despite the cancellation, the post agreed to continue supporting its baseball squad, Edwards said.

Though baseball is a sport inherently physically distanced for the most part, Edwards practices caution.

Hand sanitizer must be used every half inning. Coaches wear masks. No one may share water bottles. During every pitcher-catcher conference, the pitcher must cover his mouth with his glove. Uniforms must be washed after every game. Fist and elbow bumps as well as high-fives are prohibited. Players do the best they can to spread out in the dugout. Fans sparsely litter the bleachers.

Even the team’s first meeting, held in the parking lot of Post 7, maintained safe distance. Coaches spoke over a loudspeaker. Each player sat in chairs thoroughly spread apart. It was like a tent recital without a tent, Edwards said.

“I’m a father. I feel like all those players are my own kids,” the coach said. “I try to be diligent about being careful.”

Sometimes, players forget about the risk, such as when a teammate crossed the plate during last week’s doubleheader.

“My mom said something like ‘Maybe high fives aren’t the best idea.’ But you forget in the moment. It’s just a reaction,” Kasprow said.

Stepping onto a baseball field refreshed infielder Sean Talbot. The rising senior at Annapolis High had only managed one scrimmage before the pandemic packed the rest of the spring away.

He feels fortunate for his and his teammates’ situation. Many athletes have lost their sport for the foreseeable future, either due to lack of play available or out of an abundance of personal caution. Other young ballplayers and their parents travel to Delaware and the South for tournaments — quiet and free, without a word to anyone.

But Talbot doesn’t have to travel far at all. Practice is held on his own high school’s field. Home games are but a 30 minute drive away.

Goals transform when there’s no championship to seek, nor divisions to contend with for the top of the standings. No other Anne Arundel team but Edwards’ chose to ultimately play.

“I mean, I still want to win. Just win, play our best. Try to get some hits. Score more than the other team,” Talbot said. “But just have fun.”

Structured, title-oriented competition does, however, still exist.

Aaron Jones, vice president of baseball operations for South Maryland Little League, noticed a change in his son’s disposition when he returned to the field. Fellow parents, he said, had also softened, worrying less about anything but the fact that their children were enjoying themselves.

The South Maryland group had been anticipating hosting the Maryland State Little League Championship for the first time on Anne Arundel grounds in 60 years. Most of the children signed up had then been slated to go to Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Upon its expiration, Jones pivoted. He made a flurry of calls and connections with other teams and coaches and found an alternative. The South Maryland group hopes to ship down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, next month for the Youth Baseball Nationals.

“Kids were really looking forward to going to the home of the Hall of Fame,” Jones said. “Now, we’re giving them a beach experience instead.”

Right now, that move is in peril. Jones is monitoring recent spikes in coronavirus cases in South Carolina, specifically in Myrtle Beach. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported 180 new coronavirus cases in Horry County, where Myrtle Beach is located, on Thursday, bringing the county’s total to 3,727.

In the meantime, the group is scheduling some games with other teams in Maryland.

“I don’t think any of us want to trek down there to be placed in a quarantine situation,” Jones said, “where our only reprieve is a few hours on the field.”

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